Events that shaped us 

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Bettendorf, IA 52722

17th St and 5th Ave
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2132 E 11 St
Davenport, IA

1422 5th Ave
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Teske Pet & Garden Center
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Barnett's House of Fireplaces
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Bettendorf, IA 52722

DeGreve Oil Change
3400 State St
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3900 N Pine
Davenport, IA

DeGreve Oil change
2125 53 St
Moline, IL 61265

DeGreve Oil Change
1618 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

DeGreve Oil change
3560 N Brady St
Davenport, IA

1305 5 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Pratt's Antiques
125 E Main St
Aledo, IL 61231

Main St Antiques
114 E Main St
Aledo, IL 61231

Conner Co
PO Box 888
East Moline, IL 61244

Kimball Cleaners
308 SW 5th Ave
Aledo, IL 61231

Electricity coops improved life on the farm

By Lydia Sage, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Henry County native Irene Ghys remembers the day electricity came to the area as clearly as though it was yesterday.

``It was really excitement for us,'' Mrs. Ghys, of Atkinson, recalled the day in 1937 when she was about 16 years old.

``We pulled a cord with one light bulb and it came on. It was like another world to us to have a bright light. It was quite a change,'' she said.

Although younger generations have the image of a quaint scene of people sitting around the warm glow of a kerosene lamp, Mrs. Ghys remembers a far different era.

``The electric light sure was a lot different than the old kerosene lamps. They weren't very bright. Most of the time you'd end up sitting in the shadows trying to read or work,'' she said.

Life in rural areas then was nothing like ``the good old days'' folks often describe, she said. While a few farmers had small, battery-operated home electric plants, most did not, she said.

Some farm families had gasoline-powered washing machines, but they were nothing to compare to the coming age when such appliances would run on electricity, Mrs. Ghys said.

Mrs. Ghys said she was one of the lucky people in Illinois to live in the rural area served by the Farmers Mutual Electric Company, based in Geneseo, the first electric cooperative in the state to provide electricity to its members.

The cooperative, which still provides electricity to the same area where Mrs. Ghys grew up, is going strong. Farmers Mutual was, and remains, the smallest cooperative formed in the state. Today, 25 of the original 27 Rural Electric Administration cooperatives exist in the state, according to John Freitag, vice president of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, based in Springfield.

Bob Delp, who has worked for Farmers Mutual for 27 years, 12 as manager, said he is proud of the service cooperatives still provide to their patron-members.

Like the other cooperatives formed after the federal Rural Electrification Act of 1936, Farmers Mutual was founded by a small group of farm leaders who were upset because larger commercial power companies refused to extend power into rural areas because the firms' officials deemed it too expensive, Mr. Delp said.

Investor-owned electric utility companies wanted $2,000 a mile just to extend power lines into rural areas at the time, ``an outlandish sum in those days,'' not including other costs and fees, according to FMEC's history.

The cooperative founders had seen the miraculous change in the quality of life and work electricity had brought to city dwellers and believed those in rural areas deserved the same, he said. The REA, formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in May 1935, made it possible.

``It was, and has been, one of the most successful programs ever run by the (federal) government,'' Mr. Delp said, noting the prospect of electricity drew neighbors and friends together as they worked to form the rural cooperatives.

``Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house,'' one Tennessee farmer told a gathering in the early 1940s, according to ``The Next Greatest Thing,'' a 1984 anthology of rural electrification.

Mr. Delp said the Geneseo-area farm leaders were foward-thinking people who wanted only the best for their friends, family and neighbors, and, during an organizational meeting in 1935 put the wheels in motion to found a cooperative as quickly as possible.

Farmers Mutual was the first Illinois electric cooperative to organize, the first to apply for and receive REA financing, the first to energize lines, the first to be sued by an investor-owned utility to halt line construction and the first to have 10 percent of its lines placed underground, he said.

The cooperative received a long-term, low-interest $60,000 federal REA loan for its initial construction of lines to carry electricity to the country-side.

On Sept. 22, 1937, power was turned on for the first time, energizing the 64 miles of lines installed to serve about 125 farm families.

Geneseo's municipal-owned electric plant provided the major part of the cooperative's wholesale power until 1952. Today, the cooperative is supplied by Soyland Power Cooperative, Inc., based in Decatur, Mr. Delp said.

Like most of the approximately 900 other electric cooperatives remaining across the nation, Farmers Mutual continues to operate on a not-for-profit basis as spelled out in the REA, Mr. Delp said. In comparison, he said, there are approximately 250 investor-owned power companies nationwide.

In a few Illinois cooperatives the non-profit status slowly is changing, he said, as cooperatives diversify to remain financially sound, offering a variety of other services and products.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.